The B-Side of Daniel Garneau)
* * *
Baby Have Some Faith
“Gay love is so punk rock.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean,” Pat said, “when you guys love each other, it’s like you’re giving the finger to the Man. It’s like you’re going up against corporate mass culture and all the bourgeois hypocrisy that’s made the rest of us blue-pill-popping automatons. When you hold hands in public it’s direct action; it’s fucking protest! It’s beautiful, Dan. I’ve got so much respect.”
We were walking along Queen Street West on our way to Steve’s Music Store. I had absolutely no idea what Pat was talking about. “It’s like I’m ‘giving the finger to the Man’?”
Pat doubled over with laughter. “You got me there. No pun intended.” He whipped out a roll of packing tape and posted a flyer. It was the first sunny break of the new year and pillows of snow sparkled on rooftops and store signs. Outside the Rivoli, aproned staff wiped down cocktail tables and set up patio heaters. A red-and-white streetcar trundled past.
“Look,” said Pat, buckling his shoulder bag, “I’ve been working on learning clawhammer banjo in the old mountain style. It’s not what people expect, but it’s what they need. The scene needs a shake-up, man. It’s what keeps music alive. Shakin’ it up.”
Mouth wide open, he grinned at me, raised his elbows and began jerking his hips side-to-side.
Pat was my brother. But he was also a freak.
A toddler ran up and started dancing with him. Pat pirouetted the kid over to a woman with a stroller. “You’ve got a little Chubby Checker here!” he declared. The woman and her friend stared at Pat’s moose-antlered toque and the battered guitar case slung over his back. When he winked at her, the woman actually blushed. Pat asked the kid: “Does Mommy want to dance?” The kid squealed with laughter and Pat held out his hand.
What kind of mom dances with a total stranger in public? Apparently, this one did. Now the three of them were doing the twist. I looked to Mommy’s friend, but she was cheerfully recording everything with her BlackBerry while sipping her Triple Venti Half Sweet Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato.
Patrick Garneau might be a freak but he was no blue-pill-popping automaton either.
Pat high-fived the toddler and thrust out two flyers. Both women waved goodbye, rosy-cheeked.
So,” Pat said, “you and David coming to our show Saturday?”
I hefted my gym bag and shook my head. “Sorry, not this time. I really have to study.”
“It’s Nadia’s opening night, we’ve got a couple duets lined up.”
“I didn’t know Nadia could sing.”
“Neither did I!” Pat threw an arm up. “It’s like she’s totally channelling Nelly Furtado or something.”
Since the fall, Pat and my friend Nadia had started hanging out. But every time I asked, Pat would only shrug and mumble: “We’re just like, y’know, casual dating for now.” Except I happened to know he wasn’t seeing anyone else. Pat never exclusively dated one person. Ever. I also knew Nadia had turned down his invitation last month to come up to Sudbury for Christmas.
“So where’s this gig of yours?” I asked.
“Grossman’s Tavern.” Pat slapped a flyer into my hand. “Did you know, back in the day women weren’t allowed to patronize these establishments, so they had to sneak them in through a back door?”
“I did not know that.”
“Change, Dan, is the one universal constant. Only question is: what kind of change do you want to see in your life? It’s never too late to shake things up. Just look at Grandpa and Betty.”
After Christmas, Grandpa and his lady friend Betty had gotten married at Sudbury City Hall. Technically we’d known Betty Lalonde for years as the manager at Grandma’s nursing home. Even after Grandma passed away, we’d still come by every Thanksgiving and Christmas to drop-off Grandpa’s famous sugar pies and tourtières.
When I asked about the rest of Betty’s family, Grandpa just shook his head. “Oh no, she don’t talk to them, not for a long time. No, she’s a part of our family now. You just call her Betty.”
We were glad to. Betty loved to laugh and she gave the best hugs in the world. You can always tell when someone meant it when they hugged you and Betty was the real deal. According to Grandpa she could also fillet a pike in under three minutes, and make the perfect dirty gin martini. At their wedding, she demonstrated spot-on imitations of all four distinct loon calls (the tremolo, the wail, the yodel and hoot). Grandpa called her a class act. Mr. and Mrs. Milton had called her a good woman. That meant a lot to Grandpa since the Miltons were practically family themselves.
Now the two were honeymooning in Varadero, soaking up the tropical sunshine and all the piña coladas they could drink. Grandpa deserved it; he’d worked hard his whole life. His company had helped build half the homes in Valley East. Both of them were also nudists (what Nadia called “naturalists”) who summered weekends up at the Good Medicine Cabin. I just hoped Grandpa and Betty remembered to keep their clothes on in Cuba.
Outside Steve’s Music Store, Pat turned to me. “Hey, so you’ll come out and see Nadia, right? We’re also trying out a lot of new material.”
“Okay. Let me see what I can do.”
“You’ll ask David, okay?”
“Big brother, you’re the best.” Pat punched me in the shoulder. “How are you two lovebirds doing?”
“We,” I said, “are doing just fine.” I stepped aside as a dreadlocked guy exited the store hauling a keyboard and amp. “So what are you picking up here anyway?”
Pat took off his toque and shook out his shaggy hair. “It’s a Deering Goodtime open back 5-string. It’s my super sweet Christmas present to moi. You’re off to meet Parker?”
“Yeah. He said he had some important news to share with me.”
“Right on. Well, thanks again for the squash lesson. Bing bam boom!” He snapped his fingers. “Saturday then?”
I waved the flyer. “Saturday.”
Ten minutes later, I walked into the Java House at Queen and Augusta, a dive bar with busted tables, cheap drinks and surprisingly decent pad thai. Parker was waiting for me in one of the booths, nursing a gigantic orange mug of tea and studying a NOW magazine. Although he didn’t actually drink, Parker Kapoor was the quintessential barfly. He also looked ten years younger than his actual age and was constantly asked to show his ID. Today, Freddie Mercury, in a jewel-encrusted crown, beamed from the front of his T-shirt. Parker’s large and perfectly straight nose followed me as I stamped the snow from my boots and slid into the booth across from him.
“Hey Parker,” I said, “how’re you doing?”
He gripped the table edge and leaned forward, round eyes protruding from his head.
“Parker, you okay?”
“Daniel. You will never guess.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“You,” he said, “are looking at the newest participant in an internationally produced literary salon.”
“Naked Boys Reading! Next month, hosted by Glad Day Bookshop. It’s their Valentine-themed event. Love, romance, heartbreak. The repertoire is immense. Of course, for the life of me, I can’t decide what to read. You have to help. I’ve narrowed it down to two choices and now I’m at an impasse: 19th century literary realism, or shunga tentacle erotica.”
All I could offer was a shrug.
“I know!” Parker exclaimed. “How can one decide? Public reading is terrifying enough, without having to second guess one’s material. Will it be Sense and Sensibility or Kinoe no Komatsu? I definitely want to draw from the classics. Did you know both were published at exactly the same time? I’m leaning toward Jane Austen’s irony and feminist critique. But there’s something so compelling about Hokusai’s sensuality and playfulness. Happy New Year, by the way. How’s your family? How are you and David doing?”
“David and I are doing just fine. Parker, what did you say this event was called?”
“Naked Boys Reading.”
“Is that what it sounds like it is?”
“Aah, you mean the ‘naked’ part.” Parker slurped from his tea mug. “Of course, yes, that’s right. The readers are completely unclothed.”
“It’s a celebration of body-positivity, a blissful union of nudity and the love of literature. The salon started in England, but now there are readings all over the world. Kyle and I attended one in Ottawa last year. It was thrilling. We promised we’d do this the next chance we had.”
“Kyle’s reading too?”
“He’s chosen an excerpt from Marian Engel’s Bear. It’s the quintessential Canadian novel and it won the Governor General’s Award. It’s such a spiritual work— loneliness in the northern wilderness, existential desire. I suspect your brother Liam would appreciate it, and your grandpa too. Come to think of it, this whole event might be right up their alley.”
“And what’s this book about?”
“It’s a love affair between a librarian and a bear.” Parker carefully extracted his tea bag, squeezed it between his fingertips and set it aside. “It’s what actually inspired me to consider Hokusai. Did you know a bear’s tongue is capable of lengthening itself like an eel? That’s in chapter fifteen. There’s something so intimate about reading to someone or having someone read to you. Do you remember bedtime stories growing up?”
“There you have it! Tell me, Daniel, what was it like?” As if on cue the waitress arrived, cracking her gum, with a pencil poised over a notepad. I imagined her reciting the specials of the day: “Curious George, Babar the Elephant, and half-priced Wild Things with any pitcher of beer.” I wondered if Winnie-the-Pooh had a tongue that was capable of lengthening itself like an eel.
While Parker fussed over the menu, I ordered the burger special and a pint of Moosehead. Bedtime stories had always been Grandpa’s purview. Grandma, of course, had been an English teacher and could recite dozens of poems by heart, long after she could remember any of our names. The truth was, my brothers and I had grown up on poetry and music more than we had with books or even TV.
I remembered Dad puttering in the garage playing his beloved artists: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. Sometimes he’d crank the volume on “Summer of ’69” and blast it on repeat until Mom finally stuck her head out the kitchen window and told him to knock it off. After dinner, the family would play board games or cards. Pat liked to suggest Monopoly just to see if Dad might chuck the whole game box down the basement stairs like he had once, shouting: “Too fucking capitalistic!” But Dad never had a problem with Miss Scarlett bashing in someone’s head with a lead pipe in the billiards room.
Later in the evenings, our parents might dance in the kitchen to Oscar Peterson, sharing a cigarette and a rye and Coke. He’d whisper in her ear and she’d slap his ass. Then he’d pretend to be a vampire and drink her blood while she shrieked with laughter. At the end of the day, I was the one who made sure my brothers and I finished our homework and brushed our teeth. At bedtime, it was always Grandpa who’d tuck us in.
“Le Petit Prince,” I said. “Grandpa would read us that.”
“Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. That,” Parker said, “is a classic.”
“And what about you?”
“Me? I grew up on Ruskin Bond and Robert Munsch. Ooh, and Roald Dahl.” Parker hunched his thin shoulders and shivered. “His stories would give me nightmares. But they were so delicious! I’d beg my sisters to read them to me, which they did in secret since Mother strictly forbade it. When I had nightmares I’d wet the bed. I used to call the neighbourhood bullies Boggis, Bunce and Bean. I’d pretend I was Fantastic Mr. Fox and Karenjit would be Mrs. Fox. We were the original saboteur anarchists. Karenjit sends her regards by the way.”
I’d never actually met Parker’s childhood best-friend Karenjit. Those two had grown up together in the rural Ontario town of Sarnia. But when Parker was thirteen, she moved away. Years later, she’d make it onto the cover of Penthouse magazine.
“Well.” I cleared my throat. “Tell her I say hello.”
“Karenjit’s very grateful, Daniel, you’re in my life. She used to play street hockey with the boys. She was always protective of me. She’s working in Mumbai now for MTV. I’m so proud of her. Her plan is to take over Bollywood. She is such an international career woman.”
Lunch was cut short just as our food arrived. One of Parker’s group homes called. Bill had wandered off again and had been spotted getting onto the 312 bus. Parker apologized, throwing on his pea coat and Burberry scarf. I told Parker to give Bill my regards when they found him. “He misses you,” Parker exclaimed. “You introduced him to The Golden Girls.”
“He’s probably in the frozen desserts section,” I said, “at the Sobeys by Balfour Park.”
“It’s the first place I always look,” Parker said. “Wish me luck!” He dashed out the door, doggy bag in hand.
Years ago, Parker and I had met working in a group home. Now he was a full-time housing manager, while I was still in school chalking up a gazillion dollars in debt.
I should’ve been a hockey player.
I looked down at my plate. I’d asked for a side salad, but had gotten a pile of fries instead. I loosened my belt which had inexplicably shrunk over the holidays. Living with an Italian boyfriend who loved to cook didn’t help. During high school, I’d played midget AA at least twice a week. Now I wasn’t even sure where I’d stored my skates.
When I bit into my burger, mustard and grease dribbled down my chin. The waitress slid into the booth and sat down across from me.
Her freckled face was round and inquisitive, her bleached blonde hair done up in a dozen baby-blue barrettes. I stared at her.
“You don’t remember me,” she said, “do you?”
I shook my head.
“You were Julia’s roommate’s best friend’s boyfriend. You wore my Tigger onesie.”
Of course, then, I did remember.
“We all met and hung out earlier that night at Vazaleen?”
That night had been my very first date with Marcus Wittenbrink Jr.
“At Lee’s Palace?” she said.
I swallowed the food in my mouth. “You’re Claire.”
“Oh wow!” Claire let out a sigh of relief. “I can’t believe you remember. I mean I’m just awful with names myself, but I never forget a face. It’s like my super power, you know. When you walked in today I was like: Hey, shazam, I know that face! I mean you were such a sweetie. What’s your name again?”
“Daniel, of course. So listen look, Daniel, I just wanted to say hi, you know I mean, I know it’s been a while, but people like us we’re family. It’s important we stick together.” She helped herself to a fry. “So, like, are you still with that Marcus guy?”
“Um, no. We broke up years ago.”
“Oh that’s too bad. For a while there, he kinda swept all of us off our feet, didn’t he? Well, good times, eh?” She squeezed my arm and stood up. “How’s your burger?”
I regarded the fries on my plate. “Could I get some spicy mayonnaise?”
“Sure thing. A side of spicy mayo for Daniel-Boyfriend-of-Marcus coming right up!”
The truth was, Marcus and I had only lasted five months. Now, five years later, I didn’t think about him every day any more. Last fall, Pat announced Marcus had taken over management of Three Dog Run. I wondered if he was going to be at Grossman’s next Saturday.
It’d been three years since I moved in with David. We mixed up our socks and underwear and looked after our neighbour Liz’s cats when she was away. Friday nights I’d take a study break and we’d order pizza and play video games on his PlayStation. David would smoke a bowl. I’d polish off a bottle of wine. Sometimes we’d fall asleep together on the couch. It didn’t feel punk rock. It felt, well, normal.
So why did I hesitate every time people asked how we were doing? When two people love each other as much as we did, it should be easy to say so. But constant worry was my normal. It was, unfortunately, my super power.
I studied Pat’s flyer. David had designed the band logo: three puppies inside a spiral circle. It was my brother Pat, in fact, who had introduced me to David. I owed him for that, even if he had let me down in a hundred other ways. Nadia was a good friend of mine and I tried not to worry how he might let her down too.
Just when everything seemed balanced and right, something always came along to shake things up. Pat might argue change was the one universal constant. But sometimes, life just felt to me more like one inevitable game of Jenga.
* * *
When I climbed the stairs to our Kensington Market loft, I had a hunch David was watching porn.
I could smell it.
Opening the door, I spotted a fresh-baked loaf of bread cooling on the counter. “You’re back!” David closed his lap-top lid, tossed aside a box of Kleenex and jumped up from the couch. “I hope you’re hungry. I’m making an eggplant parmigiana, Nonna’s recipe. Did you get the wine?”
“A merlot and a chardonnay, like you asked.” I set two magnums on the kitchen island. Any time spent cooking or baking always made David horny and when David was horny his go-to was porn.
I put the flyer on the table as he buckled his belt. “Pat’s got a gig next Saturday. Can you make it?”
“Yeah, sure.” He examined the flyer. “They’re playing Grossman’s? That place is legendary.”
“Nadia’s singing back-up.”
“Sweet. I didn’t know Nadia could sing.”
“Neither did Pat. So, were you jacking off just now?”
David stared at me wide-eyed. “Maybe.”
“I told you to wait for me.”
“I know but sometimes it’s just easier to, you know, take care of things yourself.” He examined the two bottles. “Very nice. I also just want to make sure everything’s in working order.”
“David, I don’t think you ever have to worry about that.”
“Did you come already?”
“Okay then. We’ll take care of it tonight.”
“How was squash with Pat?”
“Useless. He kept beat-boxing and pretending he was inside a giant pinball machine. I mean, I don’t even know why he asks to play in the first place.”
“Pat wants to spend time with you. You’re lucky you got a brother who actually wants to do that.”
“Yeah. All your brother wants,” I said, “is your sperm.” I hung up my jacket and straightened out the boot tray.
David stood with one hand in his pocket and the other behind his neck. His hair was dishevelled and his Deadpool T-shirt half-tucked. Growing up, he’d idolized his brother Luke. But then Luke Moretti left home and was gone twelve years, slumming it in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Even after he moved back to Toronto two years ago the guy was like a ghost, vanishing for weeks at a time.
“So,” David said, “can we discuss this? Luke and Ai Chang are coming over in an hour. We should talk about this.”
In the kitchen I soaked a rag in hot water and wrung it out. “What’s there to talk about?”
“Look. They want to be parents. They need my sperm to get pregnant.” David raised and dropped his arms. “I’m doing them a favour. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.”
“Who said it was complicated? You’ve already agreed to it. What more is there to talk about? It’s your sperm.”
“I don’t think,” David said, “you realize how angry you sound when you talk like that.”
“Angry?” I got down on my knees and started scrubbing the salt stains out of the floor. “What possible reason could I have for being angry?”
“Daniel.” David drew a breath. “I love you very much. You know that, right?”
“Yes.” I got up and tossed the rag aside. “I know that.”
“You know I want to spend the rest of my life with you. And we’re making a home together, right?”
“Sure.” I brushed past him and collapsed on the couch.
“Well, Luke and Ai Chang are doing the same. They’ve moved back to Toronto; they’ve got great jobs; they’re saving up money. Now they want to start a family. A family, Daniel. And I have a chance to help them. He’s my brother. You’d do the same for Pat or Liam, wouldn’t you?”
Pat, Liam and I were triplets but we couldn’t have been more different. Pat gallivanted through the world like it was a three-ring circus. Liam was a Thoreauvian recluse who lived alone in the forest. Would I donate my sperm to help either Pat or Liam start a family? I wasn’t so sure. “Families,” I said, “are complicated.”
“Yeah.” David sat down next to me. “It’s a big deal.”
“You’d be a father.”
“No. Luke would be the father. I’d just be the donor. Daniel, we’ve gone over this.”
“You and Ai Chang don’t even like each other.”
“That’s not true. I mean, we don’t dislike each other. I respect her, a lot. She’s like my sister-in-law.”
“Are they getting married?”
“No, you know they’re not. All I’m saying is that Ai Chang is Luke’s partner and that makes her family. We don’t need to be best friends.”
“But your sperm,” I said, “is going to go inside her body, and she’s going to have your baby. Your baby, David. However you spin this, you’re going to be a dad. And if you’re a dad, then that makes me a dad.”
I scraped my fingers through my hair. I needed a hair-cut. I hadn’t shaved in days. I could feel another headache coming on.
“Listen, Daniel.” David knelt on the couch. “Listen to me. We are not going to be dads. I’m not claiming any paternal rights or joint custody. We’ll just be Uncle David and Uncle Dan. I can’t wait for us to be uncles. It’ll be so much fun. Don’t you want to babysit?”
“You’ve always told me you wanted kids of your own.”
“I know. And I do. And we will. But this is different. Luke and Ai Chang are going to be the parents. They came to me about this, remember? This was their idea. It’s going to work.”
“And this get-together tonight?”
“Tonight we’re just hanging out, the four of us. We’ll have dinner, a few drinks. Afterward, we can step out to Graffiti’s or Cold Tea if we want. When was the last time the four of just hung out on a Saturday night?”
“That’s right. Never. Trust me. Everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to have a good time.”
* * *
An hour later, Luke and Ai Chang called to cancel dinner plans. David paced in the kitchen for five minutes, before handing his phone over to me. “Luke wants to talk to you.”
“What does he want to talk to me for?”
“I don’t know. Just take it.”
Although I’d never said it out loud, the truth was Luke Moretti intimidated me. Not because he was five years older, or because he was David’s big brother, or because he was loud and in-your-face, or even because he was a fitness instructor and part-time model. But it was because (although I could barely admit it to myself) I harbored secret fantasies about him.
Luke Moretti was the only guy I knew who always smelled great. Stepping out of a shower, his towel slung low over his hips, he’d give off this subtle, musky, animal scent. At first I thought it was his body wash, but he insisted he never used soap. In my fantasies, he’d raise his arm and point at me and wink in cinematic slow motion.
Of course, I’d never told anyone (except maybe Nadia). If David ever found out, I’d be mortified. Speaking purely academically, my post-doc friend Charles assured me sexual fantasies about family members were more than common, and I took his words to heart.
“Luke.” I cleared my throat. “How’s it going?”
“Yo, Daniel.” The voice on the other end was brusque. “I need a favour. Sorry for cancelling, by the way. Ai Chang’s dad fell off the roof. She’s at the hospital. I’m on my way to meet her.”
“Oh my god. Is he alright?”
“They’re just waiting on some x-rays. They’ll probably discharge him tonight. So here’s the thing: David’s birthday is next month, and I want to plan a surprise party for him. I need your help.”
“Oh.” I blinked. “Sure.”
“The kiddo’s right there, isn’t he?”
David was bent over, peering into the oven. “Um, yeah, he is.”
“So look, I just wanted to give you a heads up. I’ll catch you later about this, alright?”
“Sure. No problem.”
“Sei il massimo! Ciao.”
He hung up. “Ciao,” I said.
David straightened, hefting the baking dish. “My eggplant parmigiana,” he said, “is perfect. Just look at it.”
It did look fabulous and smelled even better. Hell, I’d jack off to something like that.
“Nonna would be proud. This is so going on her Facebook page. Hey, what did Luke want to talk to you about?”
“Um, nothing. He just wanted to apologize for cancelling. Your nonna’s on social media?”
“No but my cousin Carina is.” Carefully, David set the dish down on the island counter. “She’s the one who posted all of Ma’s wedding photos last year.”
“So, is Ai Chang’s dad going to be okay?”
“It sounds like it. Luke just wanted to make sure I was still on board with being the donor and everything.” He tossed aside his oven mitts. We observed the four table settings, the long-stemmed wine glasses and new cloth napkins. We’d never owned cloth napkins before. David leaned back against the counter. “Shit.”
“You,” I said, “were really looking forward to tonight.”
He hung his head. “Yeah.”
“We’ll reschedule. It’s no big deal. What’s important is that Ai Chang’s dad is okay.”
“She doesn’t get along with them.”
“Ai Chang and her parents. They don’t approve of her career. They don’t approve of her piercings or her tattoos. They definitely don’t approve of her relationship.”
“Have they even met Luke?”
“Not yet. I guess they will tonight.”
“And now,” I said, “their daughter’s going to have her Catholic-Italian boyfriend’s gay brother’s baby.”
“Yeah.” David’s face tightened. “About that.”
“Just for now, it’s on a need-to-know basis.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, Daniel, we’re not announcing this to the whole world. Not just yet.”
“Ai Chang’s not telling her parents?”
“Are you kidding me? Absolutely not! You haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“No. So is this a secret, then?”
“It’s not like a secret secret. We can tell some people. But, you know. All I’m saying is not everybody needs to know.”
“Okay. I get it.”
“I do.” I understood discretion. People judged, all the time. “What clinic are they going to use?”
“Clinic? We can’t afford a clinic.” David opened a bottle of wine. “Ai Chang said an IUI is basically a doctor-assisted turkey baster, anyway. No, we’re going to do this ourselves, the old-fashioned away.”
“Does your mom know?”
“Not yet. When Ai Chang’s pregnant, then we’ll tell her.”
“What’ll she think?”
“Ma? She’ll be thrilled. She met Ai Chang already, last summer in Sicily. They have a lot in common. And Ma’s always wanted a grandkid.”
“You sound pretty confident about this.”
“Hey, we’re Italian. Little Buddy here’s never let me down.”
“But you were still practicing.”
“Okay, Daniel. Listen. I was horny.” David threw the oven mitts at me. “You know that when I’m in the kitchen I get horny.”
David was almost twenty-six but the guy jacked off every day like he was still sixteen.
“Yeah. I know. Maybe you should start up your own cooking show. It could launch a whole new food porn channel.”
“So, if you had to,” I asked, “would you rather have sex with Martha Stewart or Gordon Ramsey?"
“What sort of a stupid question is that? Julia Child, hands down.” David showed his teeth. “It eez ’er verrry spéciale French sauces.”
“I’ve got special French sauce.”
David bit his lower lip. “Okay, now I’m hungry. Let’s eat. And then we can have dessert.”
“Or maybe,” I said, “we can have dessert, and then eat.”
“Or ...” David leaned over the baking dish and wiggled his eyebrows. “We could pull an American Pie.”
“A threesome, with the parmigiana? David Gallucci, what would your nonna say?”
David’s nostrils flared. The golden mozzarella had bubbled and browned over the thick tomato sauce and moist, fried eggplant, crusted around the edges. He braced himself and arched his hips.
“This,” he said, “would only be on a need-to-know basis.”
* * *